NHL Offseason Lookahead: Montreal Canadiens
The Lightning, Bruins, and Avalanche march on to the second round, the Canucks have the Blues on the brink of elimination, and the Canadiens stave off elimination. Check out the recaps in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Brayden Point’s overtime goal gave the Tampa Bay Lightning a 5-4 series-clinching victory in Game 5 of their first-round series, avenging last year’s first-round elimination by the Blue Jackets. Point also picked up two assists while Nikita Kucherov collected three helpers. Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno each had a goal and an assist for the Jackets.
GAME AND SERIES! Bolts win 5-4 in OT!
Brayden Point is Mr. Clutch again for the @TBLightning!
— FOX Sports Bolts (@FOXSportsBolts) August 19, 2020
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was easily the most entertaining game of this series. The Lightning saw an early 2-0 lead erased as the Jackets took a 4-2 lead, but rallied back to tie the game, setting the stage for Point’s overtime heroics. It was a tough loss for the plucky Jackets, but their lack of scoring depth cost them against a Lightning club more motivated and better-prepared compared to last year’s series.
Patrice Bergeron’s goal in the dying seconds of the second period held up as the winner to give the Boston Bruins a series-clinching 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of their opening-round series. David Krejci tallied the game-tying goal in the second period and the Bruins shut the door on the Hurricanes in the third.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bruins recovered their dominant form following a lackluster round-robin. They also overcame the departure of starting goalie Tuukka Rask for family reasons midway through this series. The Hurricanes have a bright future but they still have depth issues to sort out. Losing sniper Andrei Svechnikov to a leg injury in Game 3 didn’t help.
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon’s four-point performance (two goals, two assists) carried his club to a series-clinching 7-1 drubbing of the Arizona Coyotes in Game 5 of their first-round series. Nazem Kadri also scored twice for the Avs in their second-straight lopsided win. Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper gave up six goals on 30 shots. Following the game, it was revealed Arizona forward Christian Dvorak played this series with a separated shoulder.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Don’t blame Kuemper for his club’s implosion. The Coyotes were overmatched from the start, and it was only because of their starting goaltender that they kept this series reasonably close through the first three games. The dam burst in Game 4 and there was no stopping the Avs’ offensive flood in Game 5.
The Vancouver Canucks have the defending champion St. Louis Blues on the brink of elimination following a 4-3 comeback win in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in their series. The Canucks overcame a 3-1 deficit with unanswered second-period goals by J.T. Miller, Jake Virtanen, and Tyler Motte, who scored twice in this contest.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues appeared to have this one in the bag when they went up 3-1, but they sagged as the Canucks pushed back throughout the second period. It was a costly win for the Canucks as defenseman Alexander Edler left the game after being struck in the head by a skate. An update on his status could come later today.
The Montreal Canadiens staved off elimination with a wild 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of their first-round series. Joel Armia scored twice, Nick Suzuki tallied the game-winner, and Brendan Gallagher snapped his goalless drought. Jakub Voracek scored twice for the Flyers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was the most physical contest of the series. Jesperi Kotkaniemi earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding Travis Sanheim in the second period, which the Flyers cashed in on with two power-play goals. The Habs rallied back with two goals to regain the lead. Joel Farabee tied it early in the third before Nick Suzuki and Phillip Danault put it away for the Habs. Gallagher set the tone for the Habs with his feisty play but may have suffered a fractured jaw after being cross-checked in the mouth by Matt Niskanen, who could face supplemental discipline.
MASSLIVE.com: Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask reportedly left the club to deal with a specific family emergency. Rask spoke with WEEI’s Greg Hill, who said the netminder received a call from his wife that there was a medical emergency with their daughter. Hill didn’t reveal the details of what Rask told him, adding that the goalie’s daughter is okay now.
NEW YORK POST: Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck will be in the lineup against the Washington Capitals in Game 5 tonight. Clutterbuck left Game 4 following a low hit from Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas. The Islanders lead the series 3-1.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): James Mirtle reports the Toronto Maple Leafs received permission from the Minnesota Wild to speak with former head coach Bruce Boudreau. No formal interview has been conducted and the Leafs declined to comment, but sources close to Boudreau say he’s intrigued. The Leafs seek a replacement for departed assistant coach Paul McFarland.
TSN: The Washington Capitals signed goaltender Zach Fucale to a one-year, two-way contract.
More reaction to the draft lottery results, updates on the CBA talks and hub cities, plus the latest on Alex Ovechkin, Bryan Little, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPORTSNET: In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman reports more than a few NHL executives were unhappy over the results of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, in which a yet-to-be-determined team eliminated from the qualifying round of the playoff tournament will win the first-overall pick.
Some of that reaction came from teams who felt they hadn’t received a definitive answer in advance about what would happen if the season couldn’t be finished. Friedman feels the qualifying round will now have more meaning and there will be a big audience for Phase Two of the draft lottery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Conspiracy theorists already believe the NHL rigged the lottery to benefit a big-market club, screw over the Detroit Red Wings after their years of dominance, and to generate big ratings for the draft. These claims are, of course, baseless BS.
Whatever the outcome of the draft lottery, it wasn’t going to please everyone. For every fan who feels it should’ve gone to one of this season’s bottom-feeders, like Detroit or Ottawa, some believe it shouldn’t reward those clubs for tanking the season.
Some observers, like the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, are delighted with the outcome as it gives a decent NHL team a shot at winning the first-overall pick instead of it going to a poorly-run club. However, that pick could end up going to a lesser-followed NHL market like Arizona or Florida, or a smaller market like Edmonton or Winnipeg, or a team that doesn’t need it, like Pittsburgh or Toronto. So there’s something for everyone to bitch about.
If the season can’t be completed, the eight non-playoff clubs when the regular season was paused will each have an equal shot (12.5 percent) of winning the first-overall pick. The rest of the order will be determined in inverse order by points percentage.
Friedman believes if Toronto and Vegas are named the two host cities, the Eastern teams will play in Toronto and the Western clubs in Vegas. “We’re overthinking this one.”
Regarding CBA negotiations, Friedman doesn’t expect a vote by the NHLPA membership will take place before June 30, pointing out it could take 48-to-72 hours. Some players and agents believe there should be separate votes on the CBA and the health protocols for Phase 3 and 4 of the return-to-play plan.
Friedman’s also awaiting clarity on what the one-time 10-percent salary deferral will mean for the salary cap. Some sources believe it will give teams extra room, while another said it would be counted in the year earned. He also believes the NHLPA vote will pass but will be interested to see which players opt-out of the tournament.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We already know Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak won’t be taking part. It remains to be seen how many others follow his lead.
The league is holding firm against non-NHL players signed during the pause (Montreal’s Alexander Romanov, Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin) taking part in the tournament.
Friedman also suggested the July 10 start date for training camp could be moved back by three-to-five days to allow time to get everything done. It won’t affect the start date (July 30) for the playoff tournament.
There’s some talk of the seven non-playoff teams having “games” sometime in the fall. Details are sketchy and it’s not a priority, but those clubs don’t want to be waiting until December or January to play.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: New Jersey Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald floated that proposal earlier this month. He indicated the team presidents and general managers of those respective clubs have discussed a pitch to the league to address their situation. Exhibition games among those seven teams are one option they’re looking at.
THE SCORE: Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland said his club is more interested in a deep playoff run than the possibility of winning the first-overall pick.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holland’s attitude will be shared by the other clubs in the qualifying round. The opportunity to win that pick will be a nice consolation prize for failing to advance, but those clubs will be playing to win. Nobody’s tanking it just for a 12.5 percent chance of winning the draft lottery.
TSN: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league will fairly evaluate every relevant consideration before deciding on the hub cities. The recent rise in COVID-19 cases in parts of the United States has some observers wondering what effect it’ll have on the league’s choices.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Las Vegas reportedly remains a lock as one of the hub cities despite the spike in COVID-19 cases in that city and the state of Nevada. That’s prompted some observers to wonder if the league might look elsewhere. It’s expected we’ll find out sometime this week.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin skated at the club’s training facility yesterday for the first time since the schedule was paused in mid-March.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets center Bryan Little won’t be taking part in the playoff tournament with his teammates. He’s still recovering from a perforated eardrum and concussion after being struck by a slap shot last November. He underwent surgery on his ear in March and said he’s feeling “pretty good” these days.
THE ATHLETIC: Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi will take part in training camp after recovering from an injured spleen. He will be available to play in the tournament but it remains to be seen if he’ll be inserted into the lineup.
Kings GM Rob Blake will find positives in resuming the season, an update on Jeff Carter, Capitals winger Brendan Leipsic in hot water over offensive comments, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE LATEST ON A POSSIBLE RESUMPTION OF THE NHL SEASON
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Despite his club being out of playoff contention if the season resumes, LA Kings general manager Rob Blake believes it could be worth it. “We will find positives by playing those games,” he said. “That’s our mentality. It’s expected of us.” Despite the different scenarios being floated around, Blake said the message to his players is to keep the same mindset. “There are still games to be played.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Among the positives is assessing the performance of their promising young players, as well as potential free-agent veterans battling for jobs.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien reports we shouldn’t expect to see Jeff Carter in the lineup if the Kings return to action. Blake indicated the veteran center hasn’t been able to travel to see a specialist regarding a core muscle injury because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Carter continues to rehab at home.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: O’Brien speculates other aging NHL veterans on cellar-dwelling clubs, such as San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, could also be shut down for the rest of the season.
THE DETROIT NEWS: While the last-place Red Wings have nothing to play for if the schedule re-starts, winger Justin Abdelkader feels it would still be beneficial. “You can work on your skills and development, you can get better, and there’s going to be an opportunity to get better. As a team, and for me personally, that can help lead into the following season.”
SPORTSNET: British Columbia Premier John Horgan has written to the NHL and NHL Players’ Association offering a place to play if the league seeks a hub city to resume the season. Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney have also spoken to the league about staging games in Toronto and Edmonton.
TORONTO STAR: Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment was forced to change its date for initial payments of season tickets for Maple Leafs and Raptors games following an angry backlash from season-ticket holders. The first payment was slated for May 8 but has been changed to June 8 for now. Given the uncertainty over when the NHL and NBA will return to action amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ticket holders felt MLSE was showing disregard to the fans.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons reports a long-time Maple Leafs and Raptors season-ticket holder said he wouldn’t return to watch live games until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine or assurance the virus has been defeated.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: MLSE’s tone-deafness aside, getting fans to return to games next season could be challenging for pro sports in general and the NHL in particular, considering they’re the most gate-reliant of the major professional sports leagues.
The league plans to resume this season without fans and are considering starting next season in December in hopes social-distancing restrictions will be lifted by then. If there’s still no vaccine and little assurance the coronavirus has been contained by then, however, fans could still be reluctant to return.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks assume their arena (SAP Center) will be among the last to open for NHL games. They’re examining different scenarios for reopening once the pandemic ends based on local health guidelines.
IN OTHER NEWS…
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The Capitals and the NHL condemned offensive comments made in a private group chat on social media by Brendan Leipsic and Florida Panthers forward Jack Rodewald. Leipsic made derogatory remarks toward teammates Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, several former Vancouver Canucks teammates, and the wife of a current Canucks player.
Leipsic deleted his Instagram account and issued a statement on Twitter claiming his friend’s account was hacked and those comments were circulated on social media. He apologized for his “misogynistic and reprehensible” remarks but faces a meeting with Capitals GM Brian MacLellan to discuss the matter.
TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi is recovering well from an injured spleen suffered in early March, but he won’t return to action if this season resumes. He’s on track to be ready for the start of 2020-21.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks re-signed defensemen Christian Djoos and Jani Hakanpaa to one-year contract extensions Wednesday. Djoos accepted $1 million, down from $1.25 million for this season, while Hakanpaa will be paid $750,000, down from $850,000. The cuts could be linked to uncertainty over next season’s salary cap limits.
AZCENTRAL.COM: The Arizona Coyotes provided money to Gila River Arena to pay their staff during the pandemic but they’ve yet to be paid.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: The New Jersey Devils will donate 10,000 tickets for next season to health care workers with RWJBarnabas Health in honor of National Nurses Day and Week.
League commissioner Gary Bettman admits finishing the regular season might not be possible, Oilers forward Colby Cave in a medically-induced coma, plus the latest on Sergei Bobrovsky, Jeff Skinner and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPORTSNET: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman admitted finishing the regular season might not be possible, though he stressed many options are under consideration. One could see games played at neutral sites if teams aren’t allowed to play in their home arenas. It could take at least a couple of more weeks for clarity on how the pandemic affects all 31 NHL markets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While NHL fans and pundits are calling upon Bettman to cancel the season and the playoffs, the league and the NHLPA are determined to salvage the rest of the schedule. Failing that, they’ll attempt to stage the Stanley Cup playoffs in some format during the summer.
Of course, it’ll depend upon how long it takes before the pandemic has run its course and is eventually contained. If the current situation persists through the summer, Bettman and company will have no choice but to scrap the season and look toward gearing up for 2020-21.
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports being told it’s very unlikely the league would consider just one neutral site because it won’t work for its purposes. Scenarios include two locations where they each had two rinks apiece that the league could use, or four locations for 16 teams, or eight locations. LeBrun indicated it’s still very early in those discussions.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Oilers forward Colby Cave underwent emergency surgery yesterday in Toronto to remove a colloid cyst that was putting pressure on his brain. He remains in a medically-induced coma. The condition is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic, nor was it the result of an accident.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s hoping Cave makes a full recovery and resumes his playing career.
THE DENVER POST: A third Colorado Avalanche player tested positive for COVID-19. He’s in self-isolation and hasn’t had close contact with his teammates or team staff. The league has had eight players test positive for the coronavirus, including five Ottawa Senators.
TSN: Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland said it’s his understanding his club will keep its conditional third-round pick from the Milan Lucic-for-James Neal swap last summer if the season doesn’t resume. The Flames would’ve received the pick if Neal scored at least 21 goals this season and Lucic tallied 10-or-fewer goals than Neal. The latter had netted 19 goals when the schedule was paused.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is earning praise for his efforts to help the local community during the pandemic. Bobrovsky pledged $100K to cover the salaries of the Panthers’ home arena part-time staff. His teammates and team owner Vinnie Viola subsequently jumped on board to cover those employee losses.
Bobrovsky is also working with the Panthers’ Foundation to equip first responders and medical workers with N95 masks. “I think I just tried to do the right thing for those people, to support them and help them from my side,” said Bobrovsky.
KITCHENER TODAY: Former Kitchener Rangers winger Jeff Skinner donated $53,000 to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. The donation number is a reference to the No. 53 he wired with the Rangers and wears today with the Buffalo Sabres.
TSN: Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien said young center Jesperi Kotkaniemi is resting at home in Finland and suffered no setbacks in his recovering from an injured spleen suffered on March 11.
NBC SPORTS: Former NHL general managers Brian Burke and Mike O’Connell are feuding over Burke’s attempt to acquire Joe Thornton during his tenure as Anaheim Ducks GM in 2005. O’Connell, the Bruins GM at the time, eventually shipped Thornton to the San Jose Sharks. Burke is still bitter about it, believing he’d made a better offer. O’Connell, however, called Burke’s claims a fabrication.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s nothing like a pissing contest between two former NHL GMs to provide a momentary distraction from this pandemic and its effects upon the NHL season.